Air pollution isn’t limited to the outdoors. Moisture, odors, gases, dust and a host of other irritants can affect air quality indoors, too. Try these tactics to help freshen your home’s air so you and your family can breathe easy.
- Open windows. Most heating and cooling systems recirculate inside air. When weather permits, give your system a break and let fresh air in. Open windows and place fans strategically to help direct fresh air through.
- Use exhaust fans. Turn on the kitchen fan to vent cooking pollutants, and the bathroom fan to curb mold-promoting wetness and cleaning-product fumes. Leave it running for about 45 minutes.
- Do doormats. They help prevent dirt and other outdoor pollutants from making it inside. Get two natural-fiber mats, one for inside and the other for outside your main entrance. Keep a shoe-free home, too.
- Test for mold & radon. The naturally occurring gas is colorless and odorless. It’s also the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. DIY test kits, available online and at your local home improvement store, are inexpensive and easy to use. Mold can linger in a home without you even knowing it. Having your home professionally tested could indicate whether or not you may have a mold problem.
- Don’t mask odors. Scented candles and sprays can irritate lungs, too. Find the source of the smell, get rid of it, then ventilate well until it’s gone.
- Use a dehumidifier. Stay under 50 percent humidity to keep mold growth at bay. Clean your dehumidifier regularly, too, so it doesn’t switch from humidity-reducing friend to mold-harboring foe.
- Vacuum regularly. You’ll reduce the amount dust and other pollutants released when you walk around. Invest in a quality vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, especially good at trapping even tiny bits of dust and dirt.
- Take it outside. Painting, sanding, gluing — anything that generates particles, gases or other pollutants. If outside isn’t an option, open a nearby window and add a fan blowing air out. Clean up after your project quickly and well.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream. When too much carbon monoxide is in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This can lead to serious tissue damage, or even death. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels. If you think you or someone you’re with may have carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care.
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even be killed before anyone realizes there’s a problem.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling combustion fumes. When too much carbon monoxide is in the air you’re breathing, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs. Various fuel-burning products and engines produce carbon monoxide. Normally the amount of carbon monoxide produced by these sources isn’t cause for concern. But if they’re used in a closed or partially closed space — such as using a charcoal grill indoors — the carbon monoxide can build to dangerous levels. Smoke inhalation during a fire also can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
There is a growing amount of written material regarding the use of ozone generators to improve indoor air quality. Unfortunately, much of the material makes claims and draws conclusions without substantiation or sound science. There are even some vendors which suggest that their devices have been approved by the federal government, despite the fact that there is not one agency within the federal government which has approved ozone generators for use in occupied spaces. The EPA published several documents which highlight the risks and dangers of ozone and why ozone generators should be avoided.
Ozone is a tiny molecule which is composed of three oxygen atoms. It is highly reactive which makes it an unstable and potentially toxic gas. Ground-level ozone is considered to be a major component of smog which plagues larger cities during the summertime and has been tied to a variety of potential health risks.
Not only is ozone potentially dangerous to your health, it may not even work at all. Below are four reasons why you should never use an air purifier that produces ozone.
- Ozone Generators May Not Work at All
Some manufacturers suggest that ozone will render nearly every chemical contaminant in the home harmless by producing a chemical reaction. This is incredibly misleading because a thorough review of scientific research has shown that in order for many of the dangerous chemicals found indoors to be eliminated the chemical reaction process may take months or even years. Other studies have also (PDF) noted that ozone cannot effectively remove carbon monoxide or from outside. If used at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone applied to indoor air pollution does not effectively remove viruses, mold, bacteria, or other biological pollutants.
- The Chemical Reaction Can Be Dangerous
Even if ozone generators were proven to be effective at eliminating these chemicals, there are certain side effects everyone must be aware of. Many of the chemicals ozone reacts to results in a variety of harmful by-products. For example, when ozone was mixed with chemicals from new carpet in a laboratory setting, the ozone reduced many of the chemicals but created a variety of dangerous organic chemicals in the air. While the target chemicals were reduced, the dangerous byproducts rendered the process moved.
- Ozone Generators Do Not Remove Particulates
A third factor to consider when looking at ozone generators is that they do not remove particulates such as dust or pollen from the air. This includes the particles which are primarily responsible for allergic reactions. To combat this, some ozone generators include an ionizer which disperses negatively charged ions into the air. In recent analysis’s, this process was found to be less competent in the removal of air-borne molecules of dust, smoke, pollen, and mold spores than HEPA filters and electrostatic precipitators.
- It Is Impossible to Predict Exposure Levels
The EPA notes that it is increasingly difficult to determine the actual concentration of ozone produced by an ozone generator because so many different factors come into play. Concentrations will be higher if more powerful devices used in smaller spaces. Whether or not the interior doors are closed rather than open will affect concentrations as well. Additional factors which affect concentration levels include how many materials and furnishings are in the room to react with ozone, the level of outdoor air ventilation, and the proximity of a person to the ozone generating device.
Radon is a radioactive gas that causes cancer. Radon is found in rock, soil, water, some building materials, and natural gas. You can’t see, taste, or smell it.
Any home, school, office, or other building can have high levels of radon. Radon is found in new and old buildings. It can seep in through the foundation of a house built on radon-contaminated soil. If a house’s water supply contains radon, radon may enter the air inside the house through pipes, drains, faucets, or appliances that use water. Then the radon may get trapped inside the house. Radon sinks to the low points in buildings, so it often is found in basements. But a building can have high levels of radon even if it doesn’t have a basement. Studies show that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has unsafe levels of radon. If you live in an area that has large deposits of uranium, you may be more likely to be exposed to high levels of radon. (To see a map of the U.S. radon zones, see the website http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html.) But the construction features and exact location of your house may be just as likely to affect your risk. Even houses right next to each other can have very different radon levels.
Over time, exposure to radon can cause lung cancer. Radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after tobacco smoking. People who smoke have an even higher risk of lung cancer from radon exposure than people who don’t smoke. Radon exposure doesn’t cause symptoms. Unless your home or office is tested for high radon levels, you may not realize that you are being exposed to dangerous levels of radon until you or someone in your family is diagnosed with lung cancer.
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